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Value through visualisation

Value through visualisation

Big data is one of the most talked-about technology trends of the past decade. Lee Sullivan of Copa-Data explains the value of big data in the manufacturing industry and the best practice for industrial data acquisition and visualisation.

Big data describes data sets that are so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are unable to draw insights from them. With an increasing amount of data being generated every day, businesses are naturally keen to reap the rewards of its insights.

Much of the hype surrounding big data is driven by the potential to gain actionable knowledge that can improve factory productivity, reduce production costs or minimise waste. For example, in an industrial environment, big data provides the ability to collect production information from hardware devices and communicate it with enterprise solutions. However, before businesses can reap the rewards of this information, they need to decide on the best method to collect data.

Most modern manufacturers are familiar with the role of SCADA software in a manufacturing facility. However, not all manufacturers understand how SCADA systems can assist in managing big data. Unlike traditional SCADA, modern applications are adopting technologies to prepare manufacturers for the era of Industry 4.0. One of the biggest challenges, though, faced by industry leaders is how to make positive business decisions based on the data collected. Acquiring data is a start, but big data is bound to lose its value if the information is left to gather dust.

Using an intelligent software platform, companies can deliver and visualise data in real time, meaning that business decisions can be made quickly. For example, SCADA can deliver real-time insight into the functionality of equipment in a manufacturing facility. When a machine is showing signs of breakage or failure, the sensors of that machine can automatically inform the operator. This allows the operator to take proactive action to avoid these equipment failures, reducing downtime and unexpected stoppages.

A comprehensive SCADA system will also consider historical data when reporting production data. By integrating the results of real-time production and historical information, some SCADA applications will provide predictive analytics – an insight into the future of production. This feature has undeniable value for all manufacturers, but for machine builders, it can provide an entirely new service to sell in the form of preventative maintenance.

Data acquisition is the most basic function of a SCADA system, but to ensure that employees, machine operators and business leaders make the most of the data the software is collecting, the platform should also provide simple and easy-to-use visualisation for the operator.

The term data visualisation describes the presentation of big data in a pictorial or graphical form. Using a highly configurable user interface in the SCADA application, operators can select the datasets they find most useful and remove the ones that are irrelevant for them. This high level of customisation provides decision makers with the ability to grasp production knowledge, identify new patterns and spot any exceptions or anomalies quickly.

The value of data is not in the data itself, but the way in which business leaders analyse and utilise this data to help achieve their business goals. The ever-growing expanse of information gathered from a smart factory simply cannot be managed manually.

However, if manufacturers are going to reap the rewards of big data, they must invest in platforms that can provide an intelligent insight at machine level. In preparation for Industry 4.0, modern SCADA systems should not be limited to data acquisition. Today, intelligent SCADA platforms must be capable of communicating the results of data acquisition visually, in a clear and concise manner.

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